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Patient Loyalty And The Data Conundrum

Thought Leadership

The healthcare industry may feel like it changes slowly but imagine (or remember) what it was like to be a patient as recently as fifteen years ago. You may have had insurance coverage through your employer, and as part of that coverage, you were required to choose a primary care physician who was responsible for coordinating your care. Lab results? Wait a month to get them in the mail. A follow-up appointment? That’s likely scheduled six weeks out—and remember to bring a book for the waiting room.

Fast forward to today, and the experience certainly looks a lot different for the average patient. No longer beholden to a primary care provider, many patients have the freedom to research and choose specialists and providers with good reviews and online booking. With the adoption of electronic health systems and quick access to digital health records, lab test results can be received in mere hours instead of weeks.

The experience for companies that provide insurance is also changing. PwC’s Health Research Institute (HRI) reports that despite employers’ efforts to control utilization through high deductibles and other cost sharing, medical cost trends still outpace general inflation. HRI projects 2020’s medical cost trend is projected to be higher again—another 6% compared to 5.7% for both 2018 and 2019.

This cost shifting, paired with benefit structures that allow for more open access and a more digitally-aware population, is simultaneously forcing (via cost shifting) and enabling (via digital access) patients to take charge of how they spend money on healthcare. Patients, perhaps better referred to as “consumers”, are now starting to “shop” for healthcare, becoming experts on their own health, demonstrating allegiance to a brand, and—when they are dissatisfied—shifting loyalties to competitors.

To keep existing and win new patients, health systems are working hard to embrace and demystify the “consumerization of healthcare.” As this trend continues to take shape, healthcare executives seek to ease access to care across every channel, embrace patient experience as an impactful variable in growth, and offer patient portals to give patients simpler access to their healthcare.

Tech vendors are building solutions for patients, too. For example, Apple recently stepped in adding a new mobile health records feature inside of the Apple Health app, giving iPhone users a simple way to securely and privately download their personal health data from any provider that opts in. This new app joins other personal health record apps in allowing health records to become ubiquitous on consumers’ phones–even when a person’s health records are spread across various healthcare providers.

These new digital touchpoints, mediated through technology vendors such as Apple, set up an interesting challenge for health systems who are competing for consumers’ hearts and minds. As consumers become savvier about their healthcare and increase their expectations for continuity and convenience across every point of service, health systems need to ensure that they deliver.

A big threat (and an opportunity) to health systems, with this new dynamic, is whether they have their data houses in order. Having their data house in order means that they have a strong data foundation to build upon—accurate patient identity resolution for patient record matching is a cornerstone of the foundation needed to deliver exceptional experiences today and in the future.

Black Book Market Research Mid-Year EHR Consumer Satisfaction Survey 2018 reported that on average, 18% of a health system’s medical records are duplicates (records that belong to the same patient but have not been linked), which means that nearly one in five patients’ health histories are incomplete or inaccurate at the point of care. The Pew Charitable Trusts then reported that the odds of this occurring increases to over 50% when information is shared across health systems.

If a patient decides to manage their healthcare on an app, they’ll expect a seamless, clean, and secure experience. Since the intermediary does not control the integrity of the data when it enters their app, the consumer will, rightly, blame the health system if something is wrong with their records. Health systems must improve patient data integrity by resolving patient data inaccuracies and getting duplicate records under control else they risk tarnishing the patient experience and jeopardizing loyalty to their brand.

As empowered healthcare consumers take on more costs, gain access to their own data, and start to shop around for healthcare, the technology powering the industry must be and stay reliable. And as access to data becomes more prevalent, flaws in patient data quality that prevent records from being properly connected gain more visibility and can no longer be ignored. With the consumer taking control, healthcare executives need to focus on patient identity resolution, improve patient matching, and realize that it plays a big role in overall customer satisfaction and patient experience.